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FOOTBALL

Maradona arrested after comeback

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Diego Maradona made a remarkable return to the football field when he played for 68 minutes in a charity match in Rio de Janeiro.

But he was later arrested by police at Rio de Janeiro airport, for causing a disturbance after missing his flight to Buenos Aires.

He played for 'The Friends of Zico' against a team of young Brazilian professionals.

About a year and a half after looking death in the eye while battling heart and weight problems along with cocaine addiction, Maradona, 45, displayed glimpses of his old prowess.

After the incidents at the airport police told Radio CBN that they intended to conduct an alcohol test on Argentina's 1986 World Cup hero.

Showing contempt to authorities is punishable in Brazil by as long as two years in prison, but Maradona was not immediately charged, federal police spokesman Carlos de Melo said.

He was released after being interrogated and would return to Argentina later in the day, Melo said, adding that it was still possible Maradona would be charged after the incident was fully investigated.

Maradona allegedly argued with airport workers and then with authorities in one of the airport's VIP room, upset that the flight wasn't held for him.

The former Argentina star allegedly tried to force his way on board, prompting airport workers to call authorities. A door at the VIP room was broken in the incident, and Maradona allegedly said he was going to pay for the damage, Melo said.

The fans at the match were asked to bring food to donate to children's charities in the city.

Maradona, who appeared for free, showed amazing form, supplying precision passes and making short sprints.

"I am experiencing an amazing phase in my life," he said. "It is great to be able to play football again and bring 53 kilos less to the scale.

" I have the love of my two daughters to thank for my rebirth."

After making the statement, Maradona had to sit down, exhausted and gasping for air, at the side of the pitch. Then, as a reporter for the newspaper Estado reported, he asked friends for a cigar.

The former golden boy of football let his health deteriorate in 2003 and 2004 into a staggering, obese shadow of his former self and had make numerous visits to hospital in Argentina.

He eventually underwent stomach-reduction surgery to lose weight.

Zico, who now coaches Japan's national team, was full of praise for Maradona's performance.

Zico said he had played with Pele and now had been on the field at Maradona's side.

An inspiration

"I can go peacefully and happily to my grave," added Zico. "Maradona is an inspiration - he was so close to death and then achieved a turnaround," added Zico, who organized the match to benefit poor Brazilian children.

The "Friends of Zico" team tied 4-4 against the young Brazilians at the small Zico Soccer Center, the home of Zico's own club, in western Rio. After leading 4-1 at the break, the old-timers withered in the evening heat.

Although old and new stars of the game appeared, including Bebeto, Jorginho, Marcio Santos and Leonardo, members of the world championship Brazilian team of 1994, most of the 3,000 spectators' cheers in the sold-out stadium were for Maradona.

Praise also came from the Brazilian national coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who repeatedly applauded Maradona on the sidelines.

"A team with Maradona and Zico doesn't need a coach," he said.

The uproar over Maradona's appearance was so large that he had to shut himself in his dressing room for 15 minutes before the game to escape a stampede of journalists and fans.

Zico eventually had to help, clearing a way so Maradona could make it to the field.

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